Cooperation between designers and developers has been a huge topic lately. MCE conference had a strong input into this discussion by having both designers and developers share their experience in team building. Additionally, Ralph Talmont lead a whole panel on bridging the gap in interdisciplinary teams. We believe great teamwork is a must when building interactive products, so this topic is really meaningful at Polidea.
I’m going to share with you our tips, tricks and tools for improving the quality of teamwork. They will be divided into three areas related to what members bring to a team: knowledge, goals and emotions.
One of the biggest issues interdisciplinary teams struggle with is keeping the right level of knowledge amongst all peers and maintaining an efficient information exchange. An app development team is a combination of different skills and fields of expertise which is its biggest advantage, but these differences might also cause some serious communication issues. We use different vocabulary to describe things, we’re focused on different parts of the project and we’re even engaged at different stages of the process.
It’s crucial to build internal tools to share those matters effectively. If the whole team works under the same roof those things are easier to manage. We hang wireframes, user journey maps or user profiles printed in large formats on the wall near our desks to give all members equal and quick access to key information. Those are great tools to support our discussions by giving them context and they also help us understand which part of the project is actually an issue now. Moreover it’s easy to keep them updated by adding missing flows and providing additional comments directly on paper; you’re sure that the whole team refer to the right version.
Another easy but powerful tool is the “Parking for Questions” which is the place (on a wall, desk, box, whatever you want) where you stack questions related to ongoing work. You can use the Parking in two variants:
During a meeting: stack all questions appearing during a meeting in one place and set a Q&A session as the last point on the meeting agenda. It helps meet the schedule and prevents interruptions.
Between meetings: when you have a question and no one is around or your teammates are busy with their work write it on a post-it and keep it for a better time. Whether it’s simple or really major, it won't escape your memory.
Remember personal goals
Personal goals are usually hidden but they are powerful factors in projects and it’s better to be aware of their existence.
Futurespectives are a fun way to gather personal goals that we want to share. It’s kind of a time machine which we use travel into the future: a couple of months after the end of the project. It helps team members see things from a new perspective and think about what we want to achieve working together. For some of us it will be trying new technology, for others sharing their knowledge at a conference. This approach helps the team define clear, measurable goals.
Another tool helping us with mapping our motivations and goals is a mapping exercise called “SCARY or AWESOME”, perfect to do together at the beginning of the development stage. Each member of the team gets 3 red stickers for marking features on a wireframe map which bother him/her for some reason and 3 green stickers for features that seem exciting and awesome to do. This exercise is a great tool to uncover our personal goals and excitements within the project but also to start the discussion about its most dangerous points.
Deep retrospectives for improving teamwork
We’ve found retrospectives are the best thing that comes with the SCRUM methodology. Honest and deep retrospectives support the process of testing and improving the team toolset. In our Peercisely project we sometimes conducted retrospectives focused on emotions and motivation. Thanks to this approach regular retrospective becomes a great tool to release tensions within the team.
Sharing your fears and emotions is a great base for building trust and empathy. It’s heartening to see that we’re all driven by similar emotions especially in hard moments. Sharing brings us a better understanding of people’s decisions and approach which may help us put out fires before they spread.
No matter if the project ends in a final store release or is quit on another stage, give yourself a chance for summary and celebration. Start with a big retrospective to gather all takeaways for future projects. It’s a great idea to invite an external scrummaster who is able to lead the whole meeting with the right distance. A big retro is a big thing so treat it that way: maybe prepare some unusual environment, fun exercises or maybe draw a big project timeline on your CEO’s office together:
…and then go party to celebrate your biggest success: a tight-knit team!
A great team should mean you’re experts in communication, masters in empathy and trusting team players who know your strengths and weaknesses. This can create an environment to truly support each others’ development by bringing peace, inspiration, sharing knowledge and skills. I believe it’s a strong foundation to build a winning product development team.
- Gosia FiedorowUI Designer